Writing - what a nice, cheap vocation! Surely all I need is a notebook and pen? Well, maybe a laptop...oh, and lots of ideas!
You'd be surprised! Over the last three years, what started out as a simple enterprise and a form of escapism has become a full-time, military operation which has cost me hundreds, if not now running into a couple of thousand. Eeek!
Did I have to spend that money? No, of course not and nor should anyone feel pressured to do so. However, as an aspiring writer I quickly realised there were several things I needed to do.
1) READ: If you want to write for a certain age-group or in a particular genre then you need to read examples (and more examples) of good stories already out there that fit your criteria. Being inspired by both debut and established authors is important and helps you to know the current market. Reading widely also hones or extends your personal taste and highlights different engaging and dynamic techniques used by authors.
COST: Libraries are invaluable for this as are book swaps, charity shops and apps such as Borrowbox. Unfortunately, the problem I have in Cornwall is that new releases are very hard to come by in these places, meaning I end up spending a lot of money on books. This is my favourite thing to do of course but it has added up. Has it been worth it? Absolutely! It's even enabled me to launch a book review blog for children's books: http://www.thebreadcrumbforest.blogspot.com. However, my budget is currently very tight and I have wondered about trying a book swapping group where we all pitch in for some new releases and share them round.
2) FIND SUPPORT:Writing is challenging, isolating and, at times, soul destroying. As a natural loner, even I am surprised at how much I have struggled with this. Find like-minded people and connect with them. It's amazing what a boost it is and what a difference it makes.
COST: Predominantly free! There is an amazing writing community on Twitter and Instagram. A year's membership to SCBWI_BI* is $95 with a renewal fee of $80. Link up with your regional organiser and you can join critique groups online and in person. https://britishisles.scbwi.org
*(Society of Children's Books Writers and Illustrators_British Isles)
3) IMPROVE: Sadly, I am not a blazing bush of talent who has discovered I can put pen to paper and write something instantly staggering. Yet, I have always had a spark of aptitude for poetry, rhyme and certain types of stories, as well as a love for it. However, a spark has to be nurtured- the flame has to be fanned. I realised very quickly that writing is a craft and has to worked at if you want to get better.
COST: There doesn't necessarily have to be any cost to this. The best way to improve is to practise and, if you are reading lots then this should help to inform and shape what you are writing. However, there is one crucial factor that I think is vital to improve. Which brings me to my next point...
4) FEEDBACK: For an aspiring writer feedback is gold-dust. Is my concept strong? Is my writing effective? How do I know if I can't get industry feedback. My friends and family are patient, often too kind or, in some cases, not kind at all (Hello kids!). Their perspectives have certainly been useful...but sadly not enough.
COST: It was at this point I decided I needed to find ways of getting professional advice on my writing and this is where I began to incur the cost. However, doesn't every job require a level of personal investment and training? Across sixteen years of teaching I was expected to undergo professional development every year and the times when I didn't (Hello maternity!) I felt my confidence and competence drop considerably.
Aren't university fees £9,000 a year now? Well, I've been writing again for nearly three and thankfully have not (Phew!) got anywhere near that figure. But what I have spent has been well worth it!
The brilliantly, fantastic news is that in the writing world things have changed dramatically in the last five years or so. Even in the three years I have been writing, I have seen a mammoth increase in opportunity: from critique groups to courses, competitions to online conferences. The writing community is now branching further outside London and becoming more accessible and much more reasonably priced. Feedback? I've now had plenty. Have I improved? Definitely! Will I ever stop needing feedback? NO!
So, however minimal your budget is, there is something out there for you! Even if it's simply a local book club or writing group, a picture book chat on Twitter or a copy of Writing Magazine - any personal investment is money or time well-spent!
In order to make myself useful, I will be building a list below of courses, groups, competitions etc that have helped me to become a better writer and forge lasting friendships and support within the writing community. For accessibility, I will also post these in separate sections on the blog.
1) Writing Magazine Online Courses
Writing Magazine is a fabulous resource for writers and offers monthly publishing news and opportunities. There is always a Writing for Children's article, written by Amy Sparkes* offering useful tips and advice. Writing Magazine also run a huge range of online courses across all genres of writing. Reasonably priced, this was my first ever port of call and I am now on my third extension of the Writing for Children course.
The initial course comprises of a set of detailed notes and 8 assignments which you have two years to complete. An experienced tutor will give you feedback on each set writing task or you can take the lead on what you want to focus on. For the past two and a half years I have focused on picture book manuscripts, extracts and even a whole chapter book!
*https://www.amysparkes.co.uk/- A published author, Amy offers a huge amount of advice on her website for aspiring writers and also runs 'WednesdayWritingTips' on Twitter.
https://www.writers-online.co.uk/Store/Subscriptions/- Subscribe to Writing Magazine for £9.99 a quarter. Subscribers also get special rates on courses.
https://www.writers-online.co.uk/- The 'Writing for Children' course is currently priced at £224 for non-subscribers and £199 for subscribers of Writing Magazine. However, discounts are frequently offered - for example, 20% off all courses is being offered across January 2020.
Extensions of 6 further assignments are charged at £140.
2) Lou Treleaven - Online Picture Book Course
Published children's author, Lou Treleaven has a haven of a website for aspiring authors. Not only is there a regular blog slot but Lou offers reams of wonderful advice ranging from which agents and publishers are taking submissions to how to write a synopsis. Lou offers a wonderful critique service and last year launched a 6 week online picture book course. This is a perfect platform for beginners or those wanting to hone their critique. There is no pressure and you can complete each task at your own pace.
https://loutreleaven.com/writing-course/- Lou is currently enrolling for the May 2020 course, priced at £150.
Over the past year WriteMentor has literally exploded in my face. Growing at an exponential rate it offers huge opportunities all over the country and online with the aim of making writing for children accessible and inclusive to all.
It would literally take me all day to write about the amazing things that WriteMentor now offer so please check out their website: https://write-mentor.com/
However, below are a few courses I have done or am doing through WriteMentor and thoroughly recommend:
Preparing for submission course: https://write-mentor.com/15-week-mg-ya-courses/preparing-for-submission-with-aisha-bushby/ This six week online course will help you hone your pitch, synopsis and first three chapters for a WIP. Culminating in agent feedback on your submission package this proved invaluable to me. Currently priced at £99
Writing Picture Books with Clare Helen Welsh: https://write-mentor.com/product/picture-book-course-with-clare-helen-welsh/ Another six week course focussing solely on picture books. Clare Helen Welsh, published author, takes you through weekly notes ranging from your first concept to final, polished edit. At the end of the six weeks you are able to submit a whole PB manuscript to an agent and get live feedback. I nearly fainted at this!!! £99
Online Conference: https://write-mentor.com/w-o-w-writementor-online-writing-conference/
Launched in September 2019, this online weekend conference was a wealth of opportunity and resources. Set to return this year, tickets to online workshops and agent 1-2-1's range from £5 upwards.
Writing Weekends: https://write-mentor.com/writementor-writing-weekends-www/
Running across January and February, these writing weekends, taking place across the whole of the country, will get you away from the screen and meeting people in person. With the opportunity to attend one or both days and receive 1-2-1 feedback from high-profile agents, what on earth are you waiting for? Prices start at £100 for a day but look out for discounts, offers and concessions.
Digital WriteMentor magazine and weekly newsletter: https://write-mentor.com/writementor-magazine-for-childrens-writers/
If signing up for a free weekly newsletter isn't enough to satisfy your craving for more information then subscribe to the new digital quarterly magazine. Priced at £3 an issue or £9.99 for a year, it is an inspiring read.
See below for the WriteMentor competition.
Nosy Crow Masterclass: https://nosycrow.com/blog/the-nosy-crow-masterclass-is-back/
If you fancy a day out in London, nosing around a children's publishing office and hearing how the industry functions at the chalkface then Nosy Crow offer the occasional masterclass with a 1-2-1 opportunity. This was an invaluable day as it taught me about the how sales work in an ever changing, trending market. It also highlights the importance of global concepts and what to do and not do when writing picture books. Sadly, all the 1-2-1 tickets were sold out when I booked but it was still a riveting day. However, I still regret missing out on this opportunity. (Price was approximately £150)
The Golden Egg Academy: https://www.goldeneggacademy.co.uk/
Run by a team of highly experienced eggitors, the Golden Egg courses aim to put aspiring writers on a professional path, with intensive courses, direction and networking opportunities. Their nest is rapidly expanding and since I started following them they now offer a picture book programme (I am in the current cohort) and fiction courses outside of London. Entry is via application of work (see criteria.)
This course is not for the faint-hearted. It is for wannabe professionals or current professionals looking to seriously hone their craft. The courses are delivered through online webinars, termly workshops (London based for the Picture Book Programme) and termly 1-2-1's. Feedback is as you would expect from an editor at a publishing house but is designed to make your work the best it can be. There are regular inspirational talks from authors and an annual 'Big Honk' party to enjoy in London's Mayfair.
The price of Golden Egg courses are costly - the most I have ever spent to date. However, this is a fully immersive course culminating with an agent and publisher showcase. Success rates are high and I am thoroughly enjoying my time with them - I haven't cracked yet!
These are only the courses I have experience with and there are plenty others to consider. Please let me know if you have found success on a different one. I have heard many good things about the Curtis Brown courses plus there are often courses run by Writers and Artists.
Competitions for Children's Writing
TheWriting Magazine Picture Book Prize: www.sparkey.org.uk/Books/picture-book-prize/
Running for the 4th year this year, the submission window for a children's picture book manuscript (text only) runs from September 1st to October 31st. Entry cost is £5. All long-listers receive brief feedback, short-listers receive detailed feedback with the top three being awarded prizes. First prize is £200 and lunch with top agent, Julia Churchill. The prize is run through Amy Sparkes and Writing Magazine. One entry per person.
WriteMentor Children's Novel Award: https://write-mentor.com/writementor-childrens-novel-award-2/
With the window for entries closing on Jan 31st 2020, this year has seen the competition open it's doors to picture books and chapter books. Entries can be multiple but each costs £10. The pull of this competition is that all feedback and scores are made available to you and all short-listed entries are offered a place on their summer mentoring programme which ends in an agent showcase and has a high success rate.
The Salariya Children's Picture Book Competition:https://www.stratfordliteraryfestival.co.uk/article/childrens-book-competition
One entry per person. NO RHYME! Prize: £1000 and possible publication.
Deadline: 31st Jan
SCBWI_BI Slushpile Challenges: https://www.wordsandpics.org/2020/01/slush-pile-challenge-january-2020.html
Subscribers to SCBWI_BI can enter regular Slushpile challenges, set by high profile agents. Follow their criteria and you can bypass the slushpile straight to an agent's desk. Previous challenges have included a non-rhyming picture book, the opening of a YA rom-com and a narrative non-fiction pitch.